Kuranda and Malanda – Tableland Treats

Before we left Cairns I had the pleasure of starting the day listening, as a guest, to Helena Norberg-Hodge share her Local Futures organisation and principles around sustainable local systems in the serene surroundings of the Kewarra Beach Resort. Helena’s principled work is certainly worth dipping in to, as so many locals are doing. http://www.localfutures.org is a good place to start.

A drive up the Kennedy Highway to Kuranda and the sea slips away behind you. I was still looking around the many bends for that elusive cassowary, but despite plenty of warning signs – for the safety of both humans and the birds – no sightings. Of course you can take the Skyrail air ride and/or the train ride as your means of transport, where the thrill of gliding above the treetops or seeing the magnificent Barron Falls are definitely worth it. We had chosen those means on a previous trip, so we stuck to the road this time.

Kuranda as a village is like a licorice allsort which offers a complex taste of tourist kitch, alternate lifestyle pockets and a bit of a vibe of not really knowing what it is. There are many visible attempts to appeal to all sorts. (corny groan)

Probably my pick of Kuranda was The Frog Restaurant, the history of the 1942 crash of the plane, Geronimo, the church, the quirky street art and the Ark building housing many styles of Aboriginal art.

I picked up a pair of hand painted ear rings and left with a jaunty spring in my step. They had appealed, not only because they were the work of a local artist, but because they reminded me of the beautiful book by Jeannie Barker – Where the Rainforest Meets the Sea.

There are plenty of eating places catering for the coffee and culture vultures, as well as the famous Butterfly House. A very pleasant village to stroll around or indulge in card readings, massage or op shopping.

The cool green vegetation of the Kuranda surrounds opened out to cultivated cane fields and fruit trees as we drove on towards Milanda and The Tablelands.

By this time the call of the stomach was becoming louder, and the recommendation to stop at Jacques at the Coffee Plantation was calling. Our destination along the plain was once known for its tobacco growing. Diversification had become the name of the game for the farmers when the dire effects of smoking were finally accepted by governments and smokers alike, so there are now other agricultural crops like the mangoes, and tourist offerings like the gyrocopter rides. The entrance of a termite mound terrace was fun.

The food was excellent, the cafe full of tourists and locals, and the coffee selections and gifts were plentiful. Thank you Jacques for the delicious local barramundi.

The final stop on this jaunt was Mareeba. The legacy of those migrant European tobacco growers and their traditions are proudly on display at the local deli. Filled to the brim with the Mediterranean style cheeses, meats, olives and the smells of rustic meals, this deli stands as a familar tribute in the otherwise rather nondescript country town to the hard-working new chums who came to the area for a better life after ravages of war in their home countries. I know of an avid motorbiker who regularly makes a trip from Cairns to savour those deli delights.

All good things come to an end, and so we returned via those winding, no-show cassowary bends back down to Cairns, stopping at Rex Lookout to breathe in the air and soak up the view.

Mexico on our Doorstep

No need for a poncho or sombrero to transport yourself in to the colourful palette of Mexico – it is here on Toowoomba’s doorstep at Cabarlah. The Colours of San Cris http://www.coloursofsancris.com.au cafe and artist market transforms an unlikely corner on the main New England Highway heading to Crows Nest into an exotic Aladdin’s Cave.

Set in a beautiful garden, there are little artists’ nooks and crannies to explore, beautifully crafted jewellery, pottery and clothes displayed in various rustic studios and if you happen to arrive on the first Wednesday of the month, there are fabulous artisan stalls proudly manned by local producers and craftspeople. Gift shopping has never been so pleasurable. Even Bundy, the dapper dog, thinks so.

It definitely draws you in and back for more! And that is before you enter the cottage cafe and see the eye-popping menu. Thank you Kim Cahill from http://www.toowoombadarlingdowns.com.au for recommending this.

The owners who have built this enterprise from their love of cooking delicious, simple wholesome savoury and sweet temptations go out of their way to put their customers’ needs as the priority. Nothing is too much trouble. The menu is broad and everything is made fresh on the premises. Sadly the secret to their delicious gluten free pastry is a secret not to be shared. Oh well, we will just have to keep coming back for more.

The decor inside the cottage sings a Mexican sonata. As a HUGE fan of popular artist Frida Kahlo, and having visited her Blue House in Mexico City, I was almost overwhelmed to see so many tributes to her in the various little break out spaces in the cottage. There are beautiful pieces to purchase and there is a special section of hand embroidered clothes and material which depict the variety of regional traditional costumes worn across Mexico. Frida championed the value of the skill and beauty of the women who handcrafted their styles by wearing the different dresses as her normal wear, and painted many of them in her vast body of art pieces.

It is inspiring to see a love of all things Mexican transported and become the core of a local business so far removed from the Central American home. How lucky is Toowoomba and Cabarlah to have this on our doorstep!

Toowoomba Coffee Culture – Eastside and Southside

Coffee drinkers are a special breed. Yes – the roast, the blends, the location, the weekend access, the service, the environmental awareness, the snacks, the pet friendly vibe and so much more decide their preferred location!

Coffee providers are a friendly bunch, so they seem to go out of their way to cater for all these needs. Sadly, they also have to contend with external conditions like the pandemic restrictions and conditions and the downturn in patronage from beyond the Range. Not all have survived 2020.

So locals are even more important than ever in keeping their orders flowing and supporting their local family businesses.

SHOP LOCAL SUPPORT LOCAL DRINK LOCAL!

While most people know the larger franchises, let’s look at the smaller places which have had glowing recommendations from the locals…………

Hume Street workers – Muse – cute, great smiles and quick lunchtime coffees – https://muse-east-toowoomba.business.site

Lindsay Street @ Cobb and Co – Cobb’s Coffee Shop – a cup with a chance to soak up the local history

Mary Street – Wedland Olives and pet friendly locals and James Street Grocer

Margaret Street – Espresso and Tea snug and chic; and long time favourites The Parkhouse http://www.parkhouse.com.au and Valetta’s http://www.cafevaletta.com.au heritage buildings and access to Queen’s Park

Top of the Range in the old Weis grounds – the second The Finch http://www.thefinch.com.au set in lush gardens

Picnic Point – quench the thirst after the views, waterfalls and walks Picnic Point http://picnic-point.com.au

High Street – Aromas great for after church on a Sunday

Harvey Norman Centre Ruthven Street South – Munch Cafe and Platters

Spring Street – Kingfishers Cafe in the Springs Garden Centre – grab a plant to brighten up the house while you are there

Stenner Street – Sleepless City Roasters and (Metiisto Chocolate)

Ruthven Street – Pump – handy drive thru or inside service

What have I missed Eastside or Southside? Let me know you favourite spot. * I am not a coffee drinker, so please help add to the list.

Cairns

The winter warmth that lures people north certainly shone for our July visit. While we were not as interested in seeing the reef this time, we set our sights on the rainforest fame.

Staying at Trinity Beach with friends gave us a great base from which to daytrip further afield to Port Douglas, Mossman and Mareeba. The views from their balcony stretched across lush greenery to Palm Cove and across the waters which we know hold reef wonders as well as deadly creatures. We spent plenty of time exploring the Cairns we had not seen for about seven years….and really enjoyed its art scene.

Having taken advantage of the enticingly cheap airfares offered during the COVID chaos to prop up the tourist industry, we made the most of it.0 While Australians like us scored unbelievable flight bargains, the number of For Lease signs in empty shop fronts told the story of so many businesses gone to the wall, and the struggle to survive without the international visitors. We were saddened to hear that Tjapukai, the wonderful Indigenous Cultural experience Centre had closed.

Yet there is still so much to see.

The Botanic Gardens

So much to see and hear. The Gondwana species area was spectacular, the Conservatory was filled with colour and butterflies and the variety and information plaques were easy to find and digest. The Visitor Centre display of the Cassowary reminded us to beware of this prehistoric survivor – and I was then so keen to see one in the wild on our trips, but failed!

The Tank Arts Centre

What a treat this is – converted from the old city water tank resevoirs, this rainforest arts enclave is inspiring. Innovative and creative exhibition and performance spaces set in a rainforest bubble – how cool! There are even natural curtains – the curtain figs.

This is truly a gem in the city’s suite of offerings. But if you want to learn about the history of Cairns, then the Cairns Museum is another jewel.

Cairns Museum

Friendly volunteers, COVID safe tours or self-guided exploring, turns up a quiet, well-maintained experience – be sure to keep enough time free to see its many levels. I loved the fish exhibits and stories.

The Cairns Art Gallery

Superb! Well worth a leisurely look. We were treated to the Past Traditions and Rituals exhibitions – wow!

Getting lost in the traitional skills and discovering the meanings behind the beautiful pieces was a real treat – and my art teacher man couldn’t help himself, and we are now the proud owners of a Roland Nancarrow wall sculpture and a Heather Koowootha print. What did we throw out of the suitcase to fit them in?

Just superb!

Sadly the William Robinson pieces were not on display while we were there. He is former Governor-General Quentin Bryce’s favourite artist (well one of them), and painted many scenes from the Birkdale area where my family lived for generations.

But the WOW FACTOR was yet to come. In the retored colonial courthouse building behind the Gallery was the spacious Textile Exhibition showcasing traditional First Nation designs from all over the country. Jaw- dropping!

Appetites satisfied

New food outlets seem to be springing up like the mushrooms they serve in the CBD….or savvy owners relocati ng to more prominent positions while the downturn is on. We were spoilt for choice, both by our hosts, and by the varied offerings in town.

Our family catch up with our niece was at Dundees on the Waterfront. A huge eating area, and with large numbers of backpacker servers, the food covered the range of tastes at our table, and the empty plates showed the satisfaction all round. The waterfront at night is so pleasant. Heaps of eating spots to choose from.

Two eating experiences stood out – Nunu’s at Palm Cove and Tuk Tuk’s at Trinity Beach. Tuk Tuk’s handmade ice creams/gelato were delicious and drew us back a couple of times. Thank goodness for the daily walks! Tuk Tuk’s Thai fare was also a winner. You can’t beat a well cooked coconut rice in the tropics.

Nunu’s high-end menu was the stand-out. From the complimentary cassava salted chips as nibbles, to the extensive menu, it was a foodie’s delight! Of course, the promenade to the car past the crocodile warnings and the twinkle of the resort restaurants topped off the evening to a T.

The Esplanade

Being in Cairns during the Tokyo 2020/21 Olympics saw the Esplanade share the highlights on big screens. The Esplanade beckons the tourists and health conscious locals to walk, swim or read the interesting information boards – and rather than seeing it as a negative, drawing attention to the mudflats and the birdlife which inhabit the area. A photographer’s delight. (I hope one day to do better justice to the things I photograph, but beg your indulgence by overlooking the lesser efforts now – wearing my glasses might help?)

St Monica’s Cathedral

For those seeking quiet repose, and a feast for the eyes, St Monica’s in Abbott Street, is the place to sit and take in the magnificent leadlight mural windows.

Time for another ice cream and getting ready for a trip up the Range to Mossman.

The Allure of Allora

History preserved, pastoralists, Mary Poppins, Sporting greats, community vibe and beaut banana bread – the allure of Allora. Only 40 minutes from Toowoomba and 20 minutes to Warwick, it is a very timely spot for a break.

Long before European settlers came to raise sheep, the traditional Giabal Aboriginal custodians cared for the land known to them as gnarrallah – the waterhole or swampy place. These settlers saw good sheep rearing country and the big properties of Glengallan and Talgai prospered. Their grand homesteads are still open for tourist viewings today, and show the dedication of the volunteers and their many years of restoration and maintenance.

Attracted by the golden seasonal fields of sunflowers grown for their seeds, keen photographers flock to the roadsides to capture this amazing sight.

The 1300 strong community of Allora is definitely worth a detour off the highway on the way to Warwick or Toowoomba. It prides itself on the historic preservation of its 1800s heritage buildings and shows strong community spirit via its churches, schools and wide main street and shops.

Allora has many famous sportsmen and sportswomen and likes to remember their past and current achievements. Among them are Wayne Bennet, Laura Geitz, Shane Webcke and Matthew Denny.

The butcher’s shop and the Wild Sage Collective and Cafe @wildsagecollective1have reputations far beyond the community and I can vouch for the delicious banana bread.

Perhaps the most well-known building in the town is the old Bank building where a young P L Travers resided with her family for a short time. Later in life, she became world famous for her story Mary Poppins. It is certainly a proud place for Allora.

Allora is a quiet, well-kept rural town with a humble pride. That is its allure.

Gowrie Junction and Kingsthorpe

Gowrie Junction – so close to Toowoomba, but so far removed in terms of its country cousin feel. GJ has an appeal for young families and raising children with the fresh air and the chance to get mud on your boots collecting the eggs.

The school and the One Stop Store are the key to GJ surviving and now thriving. You can pull up for just about anything from Clint and his friendly staff and get you car fixed at the mechanics next door….and their hot chips are superb! Rural dairy farms dot the plains and the draft horse breeding down the road is a Sunday sight worth driving out for from Toowoomba…..and those hot chips!

The activity constructing new housing estates, and extending infrastructure indicate its steady growth to complement the long term residences….and only a 15 minute drive from Toowoomba.

The sense of community is alive and well.

Quirky mailboxes add a sense of fun to this pleasant plainland with its dairy farms spreading under the rolling hills. There is a satisfying blend of the old and the new. The Honey Shed is another place to spend time with Jim and Louise and sample the local product.

Outstanding in this district is the renowned Gummingurru site. What a wonderful place to visit the Banda Cultural Centre, and explore the living history of the Bunya Feasting trail and the continuing sacred stories of the traditional Aboriginal peoples of SE Qld. Everyone needs the serenity and dignity of this shared learning place on Old Homebush Road.

Travlyn on towards Kingsthorpe you pass the Bethlehem Lutheran Church with its beautifully tended gardens and graveyard in a peaceful setting at Glencoe.

Kingsthorpe from this back road completely surprises. Previous and cursory glimpses of Kingsthorpe have been from the highway when driving west from Toowoomba to Dalby. Certainly no enticement to veer off the highway to spend time checking it out. However, the drive from Gowrie Junction brought us in to the town from a very different viewpoint, and the first sign we saw was the way to the Lookout at Mt Kingsthorpe. From the steep drive to the top, the view was all encompassing of the town – much bigger and more productive than that highway sign indicated. We could have tackled the walking track, but chose to picnic with our hot chips from the One Stop Shop in GJ instead – but the track was well designed for hardier souls.

So what does Kingsthorpe offer a prospective resident? Well a small, but well-stocked IGA sits alongside a very healthy medical suite of businesses. While this is convenient for the locals it is not so healthy for the traditional local convenience store come Post Office, which proudly stocks the local winery offerings from 2nd2None. I can attest to their moreishness!

Community spirit is the common denominator amongst the small rural communities on the Downs, and keeping interested tourists coming relies on community wanting to retain its history, restore its vitality or rejig its existence. Local employment is buoyed by the few places in town, but most travel to work in nearby Toowoomba or are small independent mobile businesses. Though the pub stands staunchly in the hope that post-COVID times might be better. Let’s hope the feral dogs causing havoc hear about that as well!

The upkeep of buildings and significant features such as the town entrance show the willingness of the community to keep Kingsthorpe on the map. Locals play their part with more creativity as well. Keep it up Kingsthorpe.

That Goombungee Feeling

Driving in to the 800 strong town centre of Goombungee, there is the distinct feeling of having arrived somewhere special. The sign at the entrance announces this as The Picnic Town. Intriguing!

Visitors are immediately drawn to the purple palette which dots the picnic tables, the children’s licorice-like cubby house and the lush green grass lining the wonderfully wide median strip under the Jacaranda sentinel trees.

Perfect picnic places. Rolling in to one of the generous sized parking spots, the urge to roll out a tartan picnic rug seems almost a must.

So what keeps Goombungee invitingly fresh and so colourful? To get the answer and to meet its characters I was lucky to have been invited along by the staunchest Community Connector in the region – Kim Cahill- founder and Director of Toowoomba Darling Downs (TDD) http://www.toowoombadarlingdowns.com.au

Kim developed the Seat of Knowledge concept. To highlight and enhance both tourist and local knowledge of the many small towns surrounding Toowoomba on the Darling Downs, Kim is partnering with a key community personality to initiate conversations with townsfolk. Thanks to Bronwyn for her organising from her end.

Goombungee’s early history of farming settlement has been compiled by Karen Handford in 2003 and captured in The History of Goombungee and District , and provides a comprehensive look at this area known in the Tradional Jarrowair language as The Place of the Bunya Pine or Bottle Tree, both of which are still abundant. The book covers early land distribution, naming, includes plans and interest maps, early pastoralists and land settlers and businesses of the early 1900s. As with all such accounts, some aspects are not agreed with by those locals whose families trace back to those early days. Combined with the tangible artefacts and accounts proudly displayed and maintained in the Museum, the picture of a thriving farming community and its traditions emerges. Its contemporary life shines in its people and their genuine contentment and pride.

Central to the sharing of news, events and family happenings are the Post Office, which also serves as a gift shop with fun, quirky treasures. Good old fashioned service thrives in Goombungee!

Traditions are the glue that hold this peaceful community together and institutions such as the school, the churches, the CWA and the annual Jacaranda Festival and its Show draw crowds from across the region.

That good old-fashioned service is everywhere. The food at The Iron Man Cafe is delicious and encourages the patrons to linger and chat… though no encouragement is really needed. 😃

The long standing mechanics and garage reflects the family businesses that have been here for generations, standing side by side with the more contemporary conveniences of supermarket, doctor, pharmacy, and library.

The Museum, the churches and the CWA have been the lifeblood of many of the long-term residents, while the school and the annual events, the close proximity to the larger centres of Crowns Nest and Toowoomba, but with the country comfort have been the drawcard for recent arrivals. And in the absence of a large municipality Town Crier, local young couple Ashley and Emily Newton keep the townsfolk informed via FaceBook and newsletters.

Goombungee colours itself through its vibrant people and the food and fun that have become widely known, and it continues to thrive through the unstinting efforts of its volunteers.

Oh what a feeling – Goombungee!

Wynnum – a Winner

When you visit your Alma Mater and rekindle some old memories and some new magical moments, it’s a joy! So it has been revisiting Wynnum for 2 weeks with time to take in the smaller gems and the stunning sunrises that have brought a renewed appreciation for this once sleepy seaside destination for those wanting to escape the capital Brisbane. It is sleepy no more!

This is Quandamooka traditional land and the islands lying across the Bay are still proudly managed by the Aboriginal custodians.

Wynnum was the ‘bigger smoke” for my father when he came across from nearby Birkdale to attend his primary school at Wynnum Central. His pioneer farming folk had emigrated from England and their many headstones in the local Hemmant Cemetery attest to the hardships of the late 1800s onwards for those European settlers who chose a new life such a long way from their roots.

I attended the imposing hallways of Wynnum High as a teenager and 50 years on my classmates still meet up for special milestones at Greene Park and share yarns of younger days at the FleaPit canvas-seated picture theatre, and the school dances. But Wynnum is a bustling unit-driven lifestyle destination now and while we sit and chat at one of the many coffee spots, the Wynnum of old has moved on.

What hasn’t changed though is the Esplanade and its mangrove magic. If you can avoid being mown down by runners, cyclists and dog walkers, an early morning stroll north to Tom Burns Place and the impressive boardwalk is stunning as the sun rises over the mangrove mudflats that are the lifeblood of the marine creatures. The plentiful sports fields, the attention to signage and environmental care are indicators of the planning for the future community and tourist potential.

If you head in the other direction, the peace and quiet of Wynnum Creek is broken by the resident bat colony. My current catsit nearby has brought many ambling opportunities to discover the pull that is bringing more and more people to this part of Moreton Bay. Lilly the beautiful rag doll cat and I often contemplate this question.

Wynnum provided me with my first part-time job in White’s Newsagency, which supported my love of books, food and travel and culture…..and now I am returning to pay homage to that start in life. The Street Libraries are a real community boon, as are the Men’s Shed and recycled use of bowling club in to Horizons. The Bengal Curry House ticks every box for this coeliac!

Walking back to the Esplanade and you come across the acclaimed sea water Wading Pool and the many family playgrounds and picnic areas and the Pelican’s Nest – the first of many seafood and modern cuisine based cafes and restaurants which are filled to the bream (ha ha) that stretch all the way past Manly with its YACHT club and impressive marina right along to Lota. Day trippers and locals alike are spoilt for choice!

Wynnum wins on many fronts! Come and check it out for yourself!

Park Yourself in Pittsworth

You could be mistaken for thinking that the smaller communities around Toowoomba were all the same. However the diversity and distinctive look and feel of Pittsworth soon changes that.

Pittsworth amazes with its size, its very interesting main street and definitely its parks. We were spoilt for choice of where to sit and take it all in. We had driven the 30 minutes in pursuit of the renowned Pittsworth Confectionery factory, and the rumour that the softdrink factory was certainly alive and well.

Green spaces, many established and tended by service organisations, are dotted around the town, and showed the community spirit and foresight of keeping space for families and friends to share. The friendly library staff provided maps and ideas of where to visit. Such a great centrally located resource.

Greenery was not only evident in its parks. Pittsworth is home to the Grove Country Gardens Centre where Matt gave us first class service amongst his plant palette of colours – and another seat for soaking up the peace and quiet.

Can’t wait to head back to Pittsworth’s heart in our Seat of Knowledge series to chat to some of the town’s characters, and learn about the Pittsworth past, to highlight its present businesses and take a peak in to its future.

Sadly we were out of luck getting the famous lolly eggs this visit, but we were showered with country hospitality, a look inside the relocated softdrink factory, as well as taking home a supply of Dad’s sarsparilla at Cook’s. A picnic in Centenary Park made up for it though.

The Masonic Lodge

Such a pleasant town – Park Yourself in Pittsworth with us when we return for our Seat of Knowledge series soon.

Raving About Ravensbourne

Driving north from Toowoomba to Ravensbourne is a 38 minute journey taking in the hamlets of Cabarlah, Geham and Hampton before turning to discover the stunning views of the Great Dividing Range on the Esk-Ravensbourne Road.

Always on the lookout for the local highlights and quirky treasures around the place, our first great find was the entrance to Hazelmont Cottages. What a treat of a retreat! Owner hosts, Sue and Jonathan Barford have an idyllic setting to offer guests the peace and quiet of a bush B&B stay.

Roadside produce is tempting, and the lush green countryside appears to be an ideal avocado growing area.

Ravensbourne National Park beckoned and what a panorama! Looking out from the Gus Beutel Lookout across the Valley is quite breathtaking. How many local families and daytrippers have rested and picniced under the huge trees, learnt about the forest creatures or oriented themselves using the direction finder?

For those with an interest in trains, in history, in timber and logging, this place offers a step back in time.

At the end of the road is the steam engine shelter, currently being upgraded, which highlights the former logging industry, the pioneer spirit of the European settlers and the Tramway Walk which takes in the track, bush, birds and tree species.

Munro’s Tramway – what a find! Hikers and bikers will love it.

Ravensbourne locals have lots of community spirit and activities if Kate’s Corner Saturday coffee spot, the festivals, community hall and tennis courts are any indication.

High Country air, soil and rainfall produce some interesting plants, fruit, veg and crafts. What a relaxing drive.

The lure of a good steak lunch is hard to ignore, and the Meringandan Hotel is widely known for its great pub grub. Certainly worth the slight diversion on the way back to Toowoomba. As were the local butcher’s gourmet sausages.

Yes, we rave about Ravensbourne – a great spot on the edge of the divide.